"A good English paper is the one that knows what it’s trying to achieve and how to do so."

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"A good English paper is the one that knows what it’s trying to achieve and how to do so."

Can you describe your career in short? How did you decide to become a professional editor?

After completing my bachelor’s degree in English literature, I spent a year in Tokyo writing EFL curriculum materials for an eikaiwa school (a chain of English conversation schools) and travel articles for one of Japan’s major English-language magazines. This experience led me to enter a postbaccalaureate program in professional writing, where I took a course in copyediting and discovered that I enjoyed it even more than writing. I did some technical writing and editing after that, but it was when I completed my master’s degree in linguistics that the editing took off for me. I was hired by one of my professors to copyedit a handbook in historical linguistics for a major academic publisher, and I also edited several papers and theses for my colleagues in a speech lab at my university. Since then, academic editing, where I can apply my field knowledge and indulge my love of working with language, has been my main gig.

Tell us about your specialized subject of interest. What new developments are you eagerly following and believe are especially significant to the progress of your field?

My main interests relate to the intersection of language, culture and society, and identity: sociophonetics and sociophonology, dialectology, and sociolinguistics; more generally, language and dialect acquisition (especially of speech sounds), historical linguistics and language change, anthropological linguistics, and pragmatics and discourse studies. In addition to new developments in these fields, I am deeply interested in their history: my master’s thesis was on the history of “linguistic relativity,” or the idea that the languages we speak affect our worldview in ways that vary from language to language and culture to culture. This was an unfashionable theory for much of the twentieth century, in which linguistics was dominated by the contrary idea that differences between languages are essentially trivial surface variations on a deep “universal grammar;” but I think for anyone who’s interested in the potential of communicative, interactional, and relativistic approaches to language, the revival in recent decades of linguistic relativity based on firm experimental findings in psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics points to the promise of a basic theoretical orientation that can unite disparate fields.

You are part of the Literature and Linguistics Center of Excellence at Editage, CACTUS. How does this association with an area of specialization influence your approach towards editing? What do you like most about this area of study?

I find that working mostly in fields where I have some background has made my editing both more detail oriented and more aware of the big picture. In my fields of specialization, I “zoom in” and consider small points of English expression and niceties of the argument that might otherwise get missed, and also “zoom out” and consider the overarching questions—where does this topic fit within its scholarly and theoretical community? How does it advance the discipline? Are there other studies that might inform the author’s approach that he or she might have missed? On a good workday, I feel like both a craftsman and a philosopher.

Regarding the second question, the amazing thing about language study is the breadth of its coverage in the fine arts, humanities, social sciences, etc.: from creative writing through literary analysis and rhetoric, sociology and ethnography, formal logic, acoustical physics, neurolinguistics, and speech–language pathology. Every day at work brings me more proof that language truly touches on every aspect of our human life.

Is there anything specific you do to provide high-quality edits across various manuscripts?

When in doubt, look it up! When working hard on a paper’s English fluency and expression or on technical matters like formatting and punctuation, I sometimes come across an ambiguity in the content. It is often tempting to try to infer the author’s meaning or to put a query on the passage—and both of these approaches are important parts of the editor’s toolbox. But when I make the time to do some research and try to establish whether there is some reason for a term or usage that seems out of place, my inferences and queries almost always prove to be handy. Reference works and the Internet are an editor’s best friends!

As an editor, how do you define a good English paper? Do you have any advice for authors on how to improve their writing skills?

A good English paper is the one that knows what it’s trying to achieve (and why that goal is valuable) and how to do so clearly and insightfully. This may seem simple, but whole books could be written about each of these items. Can you explain your idea in two minutes to a fellow specialist or in fifteen minutes to a twelve-year-old? When you do explain it, can your listener also see why it’s exciting? What’s the best way to go about it—an IMRaD-style paper presenting empirical findings, a theoretical investigation, a personal essay, etc. etc.? And what skills, background, and perspectives do you bring that make you the right author to tackle this topic? I think it’s rare that any author who has clear answers to these questions will find him- or herself struggling unproductively for long.

What advice would you give to editors on how to sustain their interest in editing and provide the client with high-quality work?

Although editing is undeniably an intellectual pursuit, I also see it as a craft like that of a master artisan. And like any tradespeople, we need to take care of our tools and our bodies. I invest in good tools. (There are few things more demoralizing than having your word processor crash shortly before a deadline!) I also have reference volumes and some key works in my field loaded on an e-reader. Most importantly, I approach each task with a clear, calm, and focused mind.

Would you like to share any memorable experience you’ve had when providing expert advice to our clients/editing their manuscripts?

Although I love my field of specialization, I also love the variety and the daily surprises that the editor’s life seems inevitably to entail. Through my work for Cactus, I’ve visited different places and times: investigated the linguistic thought of the Sanskrit grammarian Pāṇini, done fieldwork among the Paleo-Siberian peoples of the High Arctic, and learned how social networking sites and mobile devices are transforming higher education worldwide. And just as the authors of these papers have guided me through their different worlds, I’ve helped them bring their work into our world and make it part of the scholarly record. I can think of few experiences more memorable than that!

Finally, I know you enjoy biking, travelling, and experiencing new cultures and languages. Could you tell us a bit about some of your memorable experiences?

Martin McCarvillI’ve been lucky to have the chance to bike, hike, live, and work in a few of the world’s many amazing places. One particularly interesting recent experience was being invited to Jinja, Uganda, by TASO (The AIDS Support Organization), a local organization working to support people with HIV and their families, to work on their “memory book” project. Memory books are a therapeutic tool used by parents to pass on to their children information with great personal meaning, such as their life stories, as well as practical information such as contact information for extended family. We worked with a pilot group of memory book writers to design and print memory books for their use keeping their needs in mind. Working at TASO has lent me a whole new perspective on what it means to be a communication helper.

A few words for our clients…

Three words to keep in mind when working with an editor or providing instructions on how to approach your document: context, context, and context. The more contextual information the editor is provided (on the goal of the document, the prior research, the correspondence history surrounding it, the venue in which it will be presented or published, etc.), the more he or she will understand about your needs, and the more useful and to the point his or her edits and queries will be.

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Published on: Jun 16, 2014


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